Wangapeka Track, Kahurangi National Park – March 2022
What’s harder than building a new hut in the backcountry? Relocating an existing one.
Years of speculation, multiple geotech reports, months of planning, and now weeks of effort have resulted in a new location for Belltown Mananui Hut, in the Little Wanganui Valley. Thanks to funding from Kaimahi for Nature, an Ultimate Descents team led by Tim Marshall completed this epic hut relocation in March. Now the hut is better, warmer and more appealing than ever.
As the last hut on the West Coast side of the track, Belltown Mananui Hut has always been a special waypoint in the Wangapeka journey – serving as shelter for your the last night before reaching civilisation again. Conversely, for the few who head west to east, it’s the first hut on the track, or potentially an easy 3-4 hour tramp for families making their first adventures into the hills.
Major storm damage from Cyclone Ita in 2014 wiped out large sections of the Wangapeka Track on the western side, felling many trees. Subsequently, DOC down-graded the western section of the track to a route, and use dropped right off. But with Belltown Mananui now restored and relocated to a much more commodious site, all involved are hopeful the route can become a track again, encouraging trampers to return to this wonderful area.
Huts on the western side of the Wangapeka have quite a pedigree. The original Belltown Hut was built in 1950, at the site of a former mining camp. After the New Zealand Forest Service formed Northwest Nelson Forest Park in 1970, they developed the Wangapeka Track and in the early 1980s built a new hut called Little Wanganui, at a location on the other side of the river. But storms damaged this hut, which was removed in the late 1990s. So in 2001, DOC built a replacement, calling it Belltown Mananui Hut.
A decade ago, issues first became obvious at the location of this Belltown Mananui Hut, near the ominously named Drain Creek. Sure enough, a drain was running and eroding beneath the hut, and slowly but surely the piles were disappearing into the earth and a gaping chasm below. Once the decision was finally made to relocate the hut, a new site at the Lawrence Stream junction was identified, approximately 1 km downstream from Drain Creek.
Naturally, the first job was to clear a new site – no small task! The chosen spot was densely littered with windthrow from Cyclone Ita. Backcountry Trust Project Manager Ollie Clifton walked through the new site in October 2021, and over the course of an hour of clambering reckons he only touched the ground twice!
Hence a massive push from the local Karamea DOC crew was required to create a nice building platform, which Dave Guppy and team duly delivered in three big days, early in February 2022. A great start.
Some bad weather delayed the building slightly, before Tim Marshall and crew could get into gear. The old hut was dismantled smartly, new foundations built at the new site, and before long a pretty much brand new hut was in place. A decision was made to replace the old roof and shadow-clad exterior with new Coloursteel for the ease of ongoing maintenance. It was possible to re-use the hut framing and windows, and the old roofing iron will be recycled into a new woodshed.
Long days and mostly good weather meant the building team kept on schedule or better. Good planning decisions allowed maximum building effort – for example choosing to fly in concrete for the foundations instead of mixing it on site. The building team also flew in and out from Murchison at the beginning and end of each work cycle. This cut out six hours of driving.
Huge thanks are owed to many, many people for making this project happen: Local DOC staff for logistical support and advice, especially Dave Guppy and Brian Thomas who have always been available when we needed help.
Leigh and Tilly Kees made their farm available as a staging area for all the helicopter logistics. Leigh and his son have had a long association with Belltown Hut, and the BCT looks forward to getting them into the new hut location to enjoy some well-earned time in the hills soon.
Both Rob Hunt at Murchison Heli Tours and Vanessa and Glenn at Karamea Helicharter were super flexible and utterly professional in helping with helicopter transport.
Last but not least, the builders themselves. The BCT can do as much great planning as it likes, but if your builders aren’t prepared to put in the hard yards, projects like simply this don’t happen. Tim Marshall and his team have now done many different BCT jobs (including re-cutting sections of the Wangapeka Track), but Belltown Mananui Hut was far and away the biggest. They accomplished it in great style, and the finished hut is very much a testament to their skills and work ethic. Ngā mihi nui!
By 11 March 2022, some 99% of the work was completed, and Tim’s team will return for the few minor finishing jobs soon. So get in there and enjoy this wonderfully located hut on the Wangapeka, guaranteed to be sunnier and warmer than ever before!
Below are are a few other good reasons to tramp the Wangapeka Track.